Sunday, September 03, 2006

Hey, one and all -- if you haven't checked in since Friday, there's a ton of new posts below, including a lengthy illustrated review of The Wicker Man remake. So take some time to drink it all in -- and here, as promised, is the continuing saga of
Home Move Day

Screening the Past: Notes on Home Movie Daze, August 12th, 2006: Part the Fourth

(See parts 1-3 -- unless you’ve read those already -- before reading on...)

Following the appetizer of Judith Kushner’s first extended reel of color 8mm family movies -- and each of our respective lunches (special thanks to John K for sharing his BLT with yours truly) -- Bruce Posner opened the afternoon viewing with a heaping helping of more 'true' home movies.

This second course began with a second helping of Paula Kent’s British 16mm movies.

The first of these was in black-and-white; due to the warpage of the film itself, the image drifted subtly in and out of focus initially, though this was a minor distraction. We were, after all, gazing back almost 60 years. There was a slight sepia patina to the aged film, which only enhanced its allure.

The opening shot was Paula herself as a toddler in the mid-1930s, walking and falling on a stretch of road. How young was she? Well, the next bit of footage showcased her first birthday party, Paula explained as the screen blossomed with shots of a cozy dining area table loaded with toys and a cake; a wall filled with tacked-up birthday cards.

1937 footage following including shots of a black (as in "negro") doll, Paula’s parents and sister, “Uncle Stan and grandfather,” and a picnic sequence beginning with the lighting of a ‘primer stove.’ Paula further explained that the family’s outdoor picnic took place in Scarborough, on the east coast of England, as we watched the procession of family shots: her grandfather (“he was an artist, I recall,” Paula told us) and grandmother, seen savoring a smoke, as was Paula’s uncle in a subsequent shot, arching his eyebrow. Beach footage elicited chuckles, given the neck-to-ankle beach wear -- “when people went to the beach then,” Paula commented pragmatically, “they went fully dressed.” “How times have changed,” someone in the room replied, to which Paula smiled, “Indeed.”

The family footage continued: 18-month-old Paula struggling with a bike; another outdoor picnic by the family car, in a yard peppered with strutting chickens; chickens “attack” and little Paula responds in kind, chasing flustered poultry; Paula walking up another road, steadier on her feet than in the opening shot of the reel. The season suddenly shifts from summer (or fall) to winter, and cozy interiors of a family Christmas: the table set with the Christmas dinner, the carving of the poultry, etc.

The reel abruptly changed from black-and-white to rich, splendid Kodachrome color (with its eye-popping reds), and suddenly Paula was (barely) a teenager in Devonshire. “I would guess this was about 1948,” Paula said, though she looked older than 11 or 12 as we were whisked away via point-of-view driving shots of rugged countrysides and scenic views, including the waterfall from an expansive dam. “This might have been on the southeast coast in Devon, or in Wales -- I’m not sure,” Paula hesitantly added, as her teen (or pre-teen) self stood with her “Mum” and father in the brisk, breezy air. The play of the wind was soon visually complimented by the alluring play of light and shadow on shade-speckled woodland walkways: a lovely shot of Paula and her mother walking on the trail, followed by a solo shot of Paula further along the same path. “No, this is all in Devon, in southwestern England,” Paula asserted, as the English tradition of teatime brought this portion of the 16mm reel to a close -- splicing, with the time-traveling rush we were becoming used to, into an earlier time, and Paula’s tenth birthday party.

A gaggle of well-dressed girls and two boys crowd into the flat and camera view, and the rituals of a 1940s English birthday party were instantly underway. Paula seemed enchanted, her voice light as she said, “I remember these people, actually -- I can’t remember their names, but I remember them!” The then-traditional birthday party treat of trifle was served, followed by the ritualistic lighting of the birthday cake candles and Paula making her wish and blowing them all out. Man, that cake looked like a chore to cut! The festivities were interrupted by another time-snap -- back “on vacation somewhere,” in Elan Valley in Wales, then, just as suddenly -- we’re torn from the brief views of countryside and back at a birthday party. This disorienting sleight-of-frame is almost comedic: Paula is clearly younger than the ten-year-old we’d just seen blowing out her candles, and Paula laughs as she clarifies the matter, “Oh, this is someone else’s birthday party!” For the second time, we laugh at the apparent effort that went into cutting the cakes -- it appears the British birthday cakes were made of sterner stuff than their colonial counterparts: a sizable knife and considerable elbow grease was needed, judging from the onscreen labors!

Funnier still is the intrusion of a bit of amateur pre-WW2 home theater: a relative offering his satiric impersonation of Adolf Hitler. “Clearly this is before the war,” Paula stammers. And then we’re on to another celebration -- Christmas: the decorated tree, wrapped gifts, unwrapped gifts (a doll), a bird (??) -- and the color 16mm reel came to its end at about 12:30.

Without missing a beat, John Karol provided a timely and instantaneous historical context for much of Paula’s prior footage with a truncated five-minute b&w Gaumont British Newsreel -- Gaumont British News: Review of the Year 1937, in fact! The coronation of the King and Queen, and the Royal Family outing that followed; sports highlights, including the Grand Masters steeple chase, the British Open golfing championship, and boxing, tennis, racing, and the Yachtsman Cup competition. This is followed by news of the new 1937 records set with international flights, Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, the new air and land speed records, auto racing, all giving way to a procession of picturesque accidents and crashes (including at least two I recognized from their later use in the opening credits sequence of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines) and -- suddenly the reel abruptly ended, terminated by an ancient tear in the original film! We clapped and cheered, so perfect was the timing amid the plethora of onscreen carnage.

During the short break, I met a few of the folks in the room, including Edward Kimball, a West Lebanon resident with an interesting background in film and art who is currently involved with the traveling gallery, The Yellow Trailer Art Gallery. He was on his way home for the day, though he’d enjoyed the event thus far; we exchanged contact info, and then the lights dimmed. “See you sometime,” Ed quietly said as Bruce proceeded into the first of Paula’s 8mm reels, circa 1958:

Though the color wasn’t as saturated as that in Paula’s 16mm material, the camerawork was as steady as ever: I assumed (incorrectly) her father and mother were behind the camera for much of what followed, given the consistently high quality cinematography. The reel opened in Hyde Park in London: Paula was “newly married” -- and given the fact much of the footage covered Paula and her father and mother, it seems her new (American) husband was the cameraman for much of the ‘58 material! A steady hand, nonetheless, evidenced by the 8mm footage being screened. Ice cream is enjoyed all around onscreen. From London we’re off to Dartmouth, England, and various views of streets, old buildings, landmarks and the River Dart; Paula at and in the hotel they stayed at, outside the entryway, inside their room; Paula walking the stoney beach (“many of our beaches there haven’t any sand, you see,” see noted), and surprisingly sunny weather: “As you can see, the sun is shining,” Paula chipped in, “which is a plus.” As the shadows grow longer, indicating we are late in the day, we at last win a view of Paula’s American hubby: a hearty dark-haired fellow (she doesn’t mention his name, alas).

The 1958 footage continues in Devon -- views of the Abbey, churches, shops, a sandy beach front and Paula pregnant, standing on a set of steps by the beach. Evidentally, time has passed! Ice cream all around again; pigs running in the road and various shots of the narrow Devon streets and roads; a boat, then a sign, Compton Castle: Up and Down the Dart,” and then gardens; a shorefront pavilion. Paula wearing teardrop sunglasses, standing by her husband; scenic views of rapids and the river, steady panoramic vistas of various locales (prompting Bruce to once again comment, “these are like animated postcards”). Paula and husband walk out on a wharf, as if to the edge of the timeframe -- because in a heartbeat, we are seeing their newborn child in the next shot, wearing a long white dress. “This was December of 1958,” Paula shares, noting the infant was born on an American military base in England: citizen of two nations?

(I recall momentarily the opening shot of the afternoon, of toddler Paula teetering unsteadily on a British road: we've come a full generation already, in less than an hour. This is the miracle of home movies most folks brush off as being somehow mundane, unimportant, uninteresting. It's magic, pure magic.)

Abundant baby shots follow: the infant with Paula, with her men: her husband, her father. The christening, another birthday -- “another one of these tough cakes,” Paula chuckles as we guffaw again at the apparent effort required to hack into the treat. Paula outdoors with her baby; the weather darker, drearier as the footage cuts to the east coast of England, “not far from Cambridge,” as Paula is shown walking her infant in a pram (babystroller) to the playground; “this is March of 1959,” we’re told, and then we’re seeing views of a coastal village. Low tide, boats beached, the water slightly iced over. “Ah, this is Elmhurst Park, in Woodbridge,” Paula chimes in, as we see her circa 1959 dressed in a long white coat with bright red shoes, a distinctively unhappy infant writhing in the pram; an extended view of Paula walking away from the camera up a walkway, as if for a final credits crawl; a shot of the proud grandfather, making playful boxing moves toward his somewhat gobsmacked-looking grandson -- and then, Paula’s 8mm reel ends, at 1:34 PM.

Next up was another 8mm reel, this one a short 50-foot roll from the home movie collection of Irene Hollister, circa 1959 or 1960. These were initially Cape Cod shots, "taken on the Bay side," Irene mentions, including some rather beguiling interior shots from an interior window looking out, the light reflecting through a procession of colored glass bottles standing on the windowsill. “This is the Farmhouse,” Irene commented, “there was a book written about the Farmhouse,” a reference to a bit of Massachusetts and Cape Cod lore unknown to me. Overexposed shots of young Irene with Anne & Elliott Richardson, shots of a beach, “near the lighthouse” (another verbal reference to a Cape landmark unknown to me; I include it here for those who might know), and the short reel concludes with images of a picnic on the beach shot with greater intimacy than all that preceded it, ending with a closeup of a boy ravenously biting into a plum.

Bruce quickly cued up Judith Kushner’s next extended 8mm family reel, which opened with crisp, crystal-clear black-and-white footage before her father’s splice cut to more color footage.

With Judith’s permission, I will quote from her followup email to me, received this past week:

“Footage included scenes from St. Paul, MN - probably about in 1947-48 when I was a toddler and my older sister, brother and neighborhood friends played under those shady, overarching elms; friendly old dog, brother sniffing the apple blossoms.”

As an infant, Judith was wrapped in head-to-toe gear; her sister rides a bike under the elms. As the b&w footage gave way to color, Judith is suddenly a bit older: a toddler now, her brother David pushes a baby carriage, then rolling on the lawn by a sidewalk; Judith’s older sister playing “dress up” in a bridal gown and veil; the kids riding a tricycle, jumping rope. What followed covered almost two years of Judith and her family’s life, including (she said during the screening) shots from St. Paul, Minneapolis, & North Dakota, opening with (to again quote her email) “...scenes from Minnehaha Falls and a playground and my brother in a red beanie with a whirlygig on top; me wiggling out of our grandmother's (father's mother, born in Roumania) lap.” The shot of David and his beany drew a collective chuckle from the Home Movie Day audience, and lingered as a strangely moving iconic image from the day.

Following were “Christmas scenes from that time, too, sister pleased with her muff, us kids putting up stockings -- that was the biggest Christmas ever in our family in terms of presents and I think it had something to do with our father returning from Japan, or Korea.” The fireplace mantle, the rituals of the stockings, the opening of gifts soon gave way to footage shot in the spring: the family at their door, bowing, the girls in their finest Easter dresses. David sniffing apple blossoms; the kids riding wagons on the sidewalk under the elms; a man pruning apple trees. End of Judith’s reel.

But what next blazed across the screen was a world, a generation, and at least one rock-and-rolling counterculture-ravaged decade apart from the comfortable 1937-1960 home movies we’d enjoyed in the early afternoon.

“We’ve got something really different to show you now, Bruce boisterously announced. Some of us had heard him chuckling over this material a bit earlier, while checking it at the editing station in the back of the room: apparently we were about to see something that had been presented or discovered via one of Bruce’s ongoing Dartmouth College screenings, “CineSalon.”

We were about to see a 1970 amateur Dartmouth drive-in-wannabe opus entitled --

Hard Rider!

[Next: Home Movie Day Part the Fifth continues with its only exploitation biker/drug/party flick! Be here or be square!]

A sobering thought for the coming election season: if you don’t care about anything else, at least vote to react to this by voting for candidates committed to addressing this dilemma:

"Having raised the earth's temperature 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last three decades, we're facing another increase of 4 degrees over the next century. That would imply changes that constitute practically a different planet. It's not something we can adapt to. We can't let it go on another 10 years like this."

- NASA's Goddard Space Institute Director James Hansen speaking to the Washington Post about how NASA's computer models are predicting the quick progression of global climate change.

See you tomorrow, or later in the week. The dirth of comments on the blog after the adundance of this week's posts is a bit discouraging, actually, and I've much to attend to in this prep week for CCS's upcoming new semester. So -- see you here, sometime this week.

Have a great Labor Day Weekend, whatever the weather...